No Victoria school district sport has had more success than girls basketball.
Victoria High won the state championship when the UIL held its first girls state tournament in 1965.
Victoria school district teams have made 14 appearances at the state tournament and won five state championships.
Victoria East made the most recent trip to the state tournament in the 2011-2012 season.
But when East and Victoria West begin after-school practices Wednesday, two people who played a role in the tradition of success will be missing.
Claudia Eckel, who coached the first state championship team, died in August at the age of 83.
Carrie Heldt Myers, who played for Victoria High’s 1989 state finalist team, passed away last weekend at the age of 50.
Both losses have been felt by those who are a part of the basketball tradition.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Jan Lahodny, who coached Victoria High to nine state tournament appearances and is currently an assistant under Yulonda Wimbish-North at East. “Man, my head is just swirling.”
Lahodny remembers when she was in high school at Flatonia and went to see Eckel’s team play in a tournament at Moulton.
“After watching,” Lahodny recalled, “I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a coach.”
Lahodny credits Eckel with starting the basketball tradition in Victoria and would often seek her advice.
“I would talk to her a lot,” Lahodny said of Eckel, who was inducted into the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame and Texas Girls Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006. “She had a great knowledge of the game.”
Eckel would go on to coach, teach and become a counselor at Victoria Stroman.
West head coach Sandra Jimenez was a freshman at Stroman in Eckel’s final year of coaching.
“She was always someone you could talk to,” Jimenez said. “Not just basketball. You could talk to her about anything and she was available to you. A great, great lady.”
Jimenez stayed in touch with Eckel when she became the coach at Stroman, Bloomington and Victoria Memorial before assuming her current position at West when the school opened.
“Coach Eckel was the one that started it all,” Jimenez said. “Those ladies who played for her kept in contact with her and had great respect and love for her.”
Heldt Myers was a member of the 1988-89 Victoria High team that advanced to the state final.
“That team was really close,” Lahodny said. “We went on cruises together. This is hitting too close to home.”
Heldt Myers coached at St. Joseph before leaving the game, but remained in touch with her former teammates and coaches.
“The majority of us played together at Crain Middle School, and then we added the girls from Howell, so we always had a rivalry with them,” she told the Advocate’s Peter Scamardo in May. “But once you put us together, it just took us to a new level. We’re as close today as we were back in high school.”